Bill Berry was born on July 31st, 1958 in Duluth, eighty miles away from Hibbing, Minnesota, Bob Dylan's hometown (Bill, when asked, would tell he was born in Hibbing too - it was far more impressive to claim the same birthplace as the nation's unofficial Poet Laureate. Bill and his extensive family lived all over the Great Lakes area - in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Ohio, before they moved south in the autumn of 1972. At the time, Bill felt the same horror of relocating in Georgia as would his future partner, Michael Stipe, but when the Great Lakes area took the brunt of the 1970's recession, the entire Berry family counted their blessings.
The Berrys arrived in Macon on the first day of 'busing', dropping Bill off at the local stop. By the time he got to see his new home that evening, he had been bused from his prosperous new white neighbourhood to a predominantly black school in that part of the city and back again. One of the few other white kids of his age was the 'goody-goody', Mike Mills. Bill Berry also grew up around music, his elder brothers and sisters purchasing all the latest hit records, his own tastes progressing fast - by the time he was eleven, he was a big Jefferson Airplane fan. Scoring high at the music aptitude test at school one day, he was encouraged to learn an instrument and he chose the drums. So he agreed to participate in an after school southern boogie jam in Macon, showing up at the bass-player's house without enquiring who that might be. It was, of course, Mike Mills, and Berry was inclined to storm out in disgust. As it was, he grudgingly decided to see the session through, and by the end of the day Mike Mills and Bill Berry were no longer enemies.
In fact, they formed a solid friendship and a rhythm section that began working together in every likely-and-unlikely scenario. There was the school marching band with its military uniforms to spur on the football team during games. There was the lounge trio led by their music teacher, playing at country clubs and weddings dressed in suits and ties and earning a hefty $60 per show as mere 17-olds. The pair would later look back and scoff at the music that dominated their teens, but at the time they knew nothing else. On the occasion, Berry and Mills played at the Great Southeast Music Hall in Atlanta and they could have considered themselves proud music missionaries. By now, they had graduated at highschool, and, forsaking college, sharing an apartment together. They arrived in Athens in January 1979 and moved into college dorms.
Traditionally, American bands have been bred on a diet of technique and experience, and a belief of 'paying your dues' that often entails playing other people's songs for years. This was the classic approach that Mike Mills and Bill Berry had endured, an apprenticeship of endless cover bands running the whole gamut of musical styles through which they had developed an extraordinary understanding of each other.